2022/23 Chiang Mai United v Samut Prakan
The first of two away fixtures in Northern Thailand beginning with Chiang Mai United away
(The away zone at Chiang Mai United's 700th Anniversary Stadium. Binoculars optional)
What's the record like between the two clubs?
Samut Prakan City and Chiang Mai United have met three times...in three different stadiums!
In the 2021/22 season (after which both clubs were relegated from the top flight) Chiang Mai United actually did the double over us, winning 3-1 at the Samut Prakan Stadium and 2-0 at home. What I still find incredible is that Chiang Mai United finished bottom of the league and won just four games all season! How on earth did they manage to beat us twice!
This season, the sides met on a rainy Saturday in mid-September with Samut Prakan running out 2-0 winners to record a desperately needed first win of the campaign. Due to a problem with the floodlighting at the Samut Prakan Stadium, the fixture was switched to the Chonburi Stadium, an hour's drive away. I was in England visiting family at the time, so didn't get to see the game.
How are Chiang Mai United doing this season?
This is a club with strong ambitions for promotion straight back to the premier league, even if they have to do it the hard way via the play offs. They currently lie in fifth place and just 4 points off the automatic promotion slots. Their home record is fairly decent and they've lost just two of their nine home matches this season.
What are your memories of the 700th Anniversary Stadium?
A huge stadium with very little atmosphere, an awful view from the away section, and at 250 baht, the most money I think I've ever paid for a ticket as an away fan. I watched part of a Chiang Mai United game on TV very recently and also noticed the playing surface looked horrible. I'm not painting a very positive picture here am I?
Any player connections?
The great Yuto Ono, one of my all-time favourite Samut Prakan players, joined The White Elephants at the start of this season and appears to have done well. Truthfully, he's far too good a player for this division and I told him exactly that when I got the chance to chat to him at a recent Customs United v Chiang Mai United game.
Let's look through our fingers at the current league table
Before the mid-season break in December, Samut Prakan were 8 points clear of the bottom three clubs. That gap is now down to just two points! January was a disaster. If February follows the same pattern, with teams around us picking up points, come the end of the month, we could be firmly in that bottom three and having to play catch up. This is rapidly becoming a depressing replay of last season.
Krabi, Chainat and Kasetsart have all started to find form and they all have easier February fixtures (on paper) than Samut Prakan do.
Although I don't see us picking up many points from our four February fixtures, it's crucial that we don't get cut adrift.
What's gone wrong?
I asked the same question to a Thai fan. His answer was 'we keep losing'. Yes, sometimes you can over-analyze things.
Journey and digs
Thailand tourism must be well and truly back! Bangkok Airport was the busiest I've seen it for years and on arrival at Chiang Mai Airport, the public taxi system just couldn't cope with the demand...but we got one eventually. Things were about to get worse. We had booked two nights at 'The Nap in Chiang Mai', near the night bazaar, but the hotel didn't have our reservation. For the first time in 20 years, I had cocked up our online booking and got the dates wrong. After some frantic searching and scrolling of the online booking apps, we found a place just 300 metres away for 1,500 baht a night. It did the job in our hour of need but I'd describe it as an 'upmarket backpacker joint' that was way over-priced. I'm certainly not going to bother sharing the name.
After settling in, Tun and I decided to go our separate ways. She took a stroll to one of Chiang Mai's newest attractions, a stretch of trendy cafes and craft boutiques alongside a canal, while I met up with my Chiang Mai FC supporter friend Rob to take in the Friday night fixture between Chiang Mai FC and Phrae (who we play next Sunday) Despite the 0-0 final scoreline, it turned out to be a very entertaining game, and I was impressedv with both teams. I thought that the Chiang Mai Municipal Stadium wasn't a bad place to watch football either.
Later in the evening, I bumped into several Samut Prakan players in the Chiang Mai night market (I think they were more surprised than I was) and Tun and I shared a dreadful Turkish meal nearby. Let's not mince words here, that whole night bazaar area is terrific if you're looking for a cheese omelette and a hooker.
(Fans of both clubs mingling before the match to take photos and exchange snacks)
It's Match Day!
Just like last season when we played Chiang Mai United, match day coincided with the annual flower festival, so it was pleasant to take up a position near the moat and watch the colourful parade go by. We then had a leisurely breakfast, followed by a stroll around one of the city's most famous temples, Wat Chedi Luang. We retired to our hotel room in the afternoon to relax for a few hours and avoid the heat. It seems like we just missed the cool season up here.
A Grab taxi got us from hotel to stadium in less than half an hour and while Tun and I took the usual photos in front of the main stand and team bus, a middle-aged gentleman wearing a West Bromwich Albion shirt came over for a chat. Born in Stourbridge (not far from my home town Birmingham) Lee had been a Baggies supporter all his life but unfortunately now lived in Australia, making trips to his beloved Hawthorns few and far between. However, Lee regularly holidayed in Thailand and took in Thai League matches wherever possible. In fact he had been at the Chiang Mai FC match the night before. He seemed genuinely fascinated by our stories of life on the road following Samut Prakan, and wished us well in today's game.
Tun and I made our way to the away zone where we met up with half a dozen other Prakan supporters, who had all made the 10-hour journey by car...an amazing effort! The away attendance was swelled somewhat by the arrival of my friends and Chiang Mai FC fans Robert and Simon, who I had met the night before, and had kindly come along to cheer on the mighty Samut Prakan whilst booing their rivals from across town (not that things like that happen in Thai football of course).
The away section was filthy. It looked like no one had wiped down the seats or swept the terraces in months. However, it wasn't quite as far from the pitch as I remembered.
(Fantastic that the Chiang Mai FC lads came to give us some extra vocal support)
To the match itself
The big Samut Prakan team news was the return of first choice goalkeeper Thatpicha, and the absence of the two African lads (Diawara and Toure) neither of them even on the subs bench. Both injured? (surely too much of a coincidence?) Someone start up the rumour mill.
The first 10-15 minutes belong to the home side and Samut Prakan are indebted to Thatpicha for keeping out Deyvison's low drive with a fine stop. I fear a long evening as we struggle to gain any kind of foothold in the contest, but then out of the blue, comes what feels like one of the rarest of commodities...a Samut Prakan goal to cheer. Nititorn picks the ball up on the half-way line and is allowed to run almost as far as the penalty area. The finish is a let down as his relatively tame shot is parried by the Chiang Mai keeper, but only into the path of Yodsakorn and the confident teenager makes no mistake with the rebound. We are 1-0 up at Chiang Mai United. I'm thinking the lead surely can't last but truthfully Chiang Mai look toothless and disinterested while Samut Prakan are growing in confidence.
As the first half ticks to a conclusion, the home side are awarded a soft penalty as Samut Prakan number 3 Thiraporn is adjudged to have brought down Deyvison (oh come on ref! he never touched him!) Justice is served as Deyvison fluffs the spot-kick. There's still time for the home side in red to attack once more but this time it's Worayut whose shot strikes an upright. Perhaps this is going to be Samut Prakan's night after all?
Half-time: Chiang Mai United 0 Samut Prakan 1
Pick that one out! We're just five minutes into the second period and Sho Shojima capitalizes on a defensive error to extend Samut Prakan's lead and put their success-starved fans in dream land. After a shaky opening, this is turning into our performance of the season. Chiang Mai United look hopeless and as they go in search of a goal themselves, they leave acres of space in midfield. Samut Prakan have several great chances to score a third but Ratchata's deft toe-poke goes inches wide and Shojima's header is straight at the keeper.
Thatpicha is a virtual spectator in the Samut Prakan goal and although Chiang Mai score a consolation with the last kick of the game, the Samut Prakan fans are already celebrating a much-needed victory.
Full-time: Chiang Mai United 1 Samut Prakan City 2
I'd forgotten what it was like to win away and that felt so good today. I'm not sure which surprised me more, how well Samut Prakan played or how poor Chiang Mai United were. But that was definitely three points I wasn't expecting.
It was only Yuto Ono who I felt sorry for, but there were no hard feelings when he came over for a chat at the end. "The best team won" he said smiling. He ended up giving me his number 7 shirt as well. So it was all good.
Who's up next and what are your plans?
We play Phrae United next Sunday 12th February. Phrae is only a three-hour drive from Chiang Mai so rather than return to Samut Prakan and have to travel back up this way again, we're going to stay in the north and take a slow, meandering road trip through the provinces of Lamphun and Lampang before arriving in Phrae on Friday. Surely we can't win there as well?
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